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Basketball Defense - the Triangle Defense

By Dr. James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
This half-court defense was designed mainly to stop a team with a dominant, star perimeter player. It is not the same thing as the "triangle and two" used to defend two good perimeter players.

This defense involves denying the star when he/she doesn't have the ball, and double-teamming when he does. We try to make the star give up the ball, and then prevent him/her from getting it back. There is some gambling involved, and if the opponent has another good outside shooter, you could get hurt. But sometimes you just have to decide who is going to beat you, and if one of their other players steps up, you will have to adjust. Also see defending the star and other junk defenses.

Basic setup - the triangle

We are using both man-to-man and zone principles. We assign our best perimeter defender to guard the "star", and stay on him/her all the time everywhere, containing, denying and he/she will not come off the star to give help. If the defense uses two low post players, we will set up in a triangle (formed by X3, X4 and X5) as seen in diagram A. X3 will locate at the top half of the free-throw circle, our "point defender". X2 and X3 will rotate in and out of the point position and will help double-team the star.

The star is the point guard

How we start the defense depends on whether the star player dribbles the ball across half-court, or whether he/she gets the pass instead. In diagram A, X1 is assigned to the star. As the star dribbles across half court, X2 sprints up to double-team immediately. Usually this causes the star to give up the ball and pass to a wing. X3 takes the first pass out of the double-team and closes-out. X2 then immediately drops into the point position. X1 stays on the star and denies the pass back.

Triangle defense - trapping the point guard Triangle defense - trapping the point guard Triangle defense - trapping the point guard

In diagram B, X3 takes the pass to O3 and X2 drops to the point. On the skip pass to the opposite wing (diagram C), X2 now takes the pass, and X3 drops back to the point. X1 is always denying. Notice also that our post defenders are using our basic man-to-man principles inside with the weakside post defender in helpside.

Triangle defense - denying and defending the point guard Triangle defense - denying and defending the point guard Triangle defense - denying and defending the point guard

No matter how good your star defender is, the ball will get back to the star. In diagram E, the pass goes back to the star. The point defender X3 sprints to double-team and X2 drops to the point. If the star is able to dribble out of the double-team and tries to penetrate (diagram F), our point defender will be the next line of defense. In this case, the point defender X2 will become the star defender (switches with X1), and X1 and X3 will fan out to the other two wing players, who may be spotting up for a three-point shot.

The star is a wing player

Now let's look at the star being more of a wing player, and not the primary ball-handler. The star does not dribble across half-court, but instead looks for the pass to the wing. In diagram G, X2 is assigned to the star and will try to deny that pass. We do not double O1 as the ball comes across half-court.

Triangle defense - trapping and defending the wing player Triangle defense - trapping and defending the wing player Triangle defense - trapping and defending the wing player

If the ball is passed to the star, X1 goes to double (diagram H). The point defender X3 will take the next pass from the star, and X1 will drop to the point. X2 continues to deny the star. X1 and X3 move in and out of the point position as the ball moves.

The star tries to post up inside

The opponent may decide to try to post their star player inside on the block... (more)

The star in the corner

The star has the ball in the corner. We won't necessarily try to trap here (although we could). If he/she dribbles baseline... (more)

Denying basket cuts

If the star makes a cut through the paint... (more)


We jump-switch... (more)

Boxing-out, rebounding

A true star player can beat you in many ways. Don't forget to box him/her out when the shot goes up... (more)

Become a Premium Member or get the Deluxe USB or downloads to get the complete article and animation. This complete article also includes these pointers:
  • The star tries to post up inside
  • The star in the corner
  • Denying basket cuts
  • Ball-screens
  • Boxing-out, rebounding

Final comments

This defense can help you defend against a really good perimeter player. It is a "gimmick" or junk defense and should not be used as your main defensive scheme. If another perimeter player starts making shots, you will have to adjust, or change to another defense.

Related pages:

Copyright © 2001 - 2019, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.

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